Headline, Ottawa Citizen:“RUNNING COULD KILL YOU!”. Men’s Fitness: “HARDER, STRONGER, FASTER RUNNING CAN KILL YOU” Are you scared? ARE YOU SCARED?
Every six months or so, headlines proclaiming the doom of people who like to run seem to pop up like little schadenfreude sundaes. People love to tell runners that all their hard work is likely causing more harm than good, and after the deaths of celebrities like Jim Fixx, Micah True, and even poor old Pheidippides (he of Marathon fame), it is a little scary to contemplate. But how good is the science behind this idea? Are you really likely to die mid-run?
Exercise, any exercise at all, is generally good for you. It will increase your lifespan, reduce your risk of diabetes, reduce excess weight, and more. Most people don’t get near enough. Do some people die during marathons? Yes, but it’s unclear whether marathons actually elevate your risk of early death–those people had underlying structural abnormalities or atherosclerosis already. And the clinical significance of any kind of heart damage marker following extreme exercise is unclear–long distance athletes live longer than sedentary or even moderately active people, so it doesn’t appear that these markers mean anything in this population.
- What is the right amount of exercise for maximizing lifespan? “I have no idea — though my answer for 99.99% percent of people would be “More than what you’re doing right now.” — Alex Hutchinson, science writer
- Remember Jim Fixx–lots of running won’t fix a bad diet
- If you’re feeling weird, talk to you doctor! Some cases of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and athersclerosis can have symptoms like heartburn, tightness in the chest and arms.
Studies mentioned in the episode: